All posts by Maureen and Rob

Accidental Vegetarian Week

Rob and I  find ourselves eating less meat these days. Not sure we could commit to full time vegetarianism, but we are finding that eating satisfying meatless meals is pretty easy and sacrifice free. When we do include meat, we splurge on high quality, local produce, which has a lower carbon footprint, supports local farmers and tastes better. Every two weeks or so we commit to a meatless menu for the coming week. This is what it looks like:

Monday, is the one night where neither of us has to be anywhere after supper so I usually choose a garlicky menu item. Also known as “Bottle-of-wine Monday”, tonight’s meal will be pasta — Spaghetti Aglio, Olio e Peperoncino or spaghetti with garlic, oil and chili flakes, and a nice Italian red.

The pasta is simple, but flavorful with a bite from the garlic and heat from the red chile. It’s rounded nicely with a grating of parmigiano reggiano, some good olives and a nice chianti.

Tuesday sees a rush at dinner hour. I have kickboxing and get home to three animals who need to be fed, so I usually choose something that I can prepare quickly or ahead of time. This week we are having Paneer and Tomato Curry. For this recipe I quarter 5 of the tomatoes and dice the other three. I add them all at the same time. I substitute garlic and ginger paste, available at any Indian food market, for the garlic and ginger. I find the garlic more mellow and does not repeat. Perfect for a chilly fall day, warm with Indian spices, rich with coconut milk and hearty with paneer, this dish satisfies. Rob stops at our local Indian take out on the way home for naan. You can serve this with basmati rice or grocery store naan, but tandoor-oven naan is really unbeatable. We often freeze the leftovers for another day. This recipe is filling, and satisfying. It’s excellent comfort food for a cold night and truth be told, it’s even better another day after some time in the fridge to let the flavours marry.

Wednesday I am preparing a Cauliflower and Aged White Cheddar Soup. It’s good to try at least one new recipe a week. This was cheesy, delicious. and quite thick. Thin with more broth if you like.

Thursday is quiet for me. No appointments, nowhere to be until 11 pm hockey. So it’s a day I like to cook something that takes a little time, iPod on, Josie at my feet, kitties sleeping on the stairs, something that makes the house smell good and blows raspberries at November weather. This week I’m making a creamy, cheesy, Mushroom Risotto. I use vegetable stock instead of chicken stock. The mushrooms and liquid from soaking the dried porcinis makes this dish quite beefy tasting. Like every good risotto, this is creamy, rich and satisfying. The mushrooms provide a meatiness all to themselves.

Friday this week I have chosen something light but elegant that we can open a bottle of wine with and curl up in front of the TV and fire. We are going out to dinner tomorrow at Steven Beckta’s new resto Gezellig, so we will indulge or likely over indulge then. Tonight we will have to be satisfied with Peach and Brie Quesadillas and a chilled bottle of Pinot Grigio. We used bottled peaches in juice and a white sweet onion instead of red.

I guarantee with a little planning around your schedule, you will be surprised that you can eat very well and not even realize you had no meat. That’s why we call it accidental vegetarian. We choose a recipe because it will be tasty specifically, not because it was vegetarian. That’s just a happy coincidence.

 

Montreal Classics

Wow! This summer is gorgeous and hot. The weather in Montreal is no exception. We are heading out this morning to Beauty’s Luncheonette, recently featured on The Layover with Anthony Bourdain. Beauty’s has been serving classic diner fare for breakfast, lunch and dessert since 1942. The luncheonette holds an unassuming spot on the corner of St. Urbain and Mont Royal. Hymie Sckolnick, the original owner is still greeting customers and gets you a “great” seat at 90 years old. He is Beauty.

We sit in a classic booth. Waitresses are younger and clad in jeans and Beauty’s tees but it is still a diner without irony. Our server brings excellent coffee and fresh-squeezed OJ.

We order the Beauty’s special to share and I chose a country omelet with bacon cheese and potato, while Rob chose the mishmash, an omelet with onion, green pepper, salami and french-cut hot dogs, grilled hard on the flat top so they have a nice caramelized finish.

The omelets are very good but the star of the show is the Beauty’s special – a Montreal bagel loaded with cream cheese, red onion, tomato and smoked salmon. Happy Mouth.

Beauty’s is a place I would visit for that sandwich alone. However be forewarned, Beauty’s is not as Beauty’s does…this was a $65 breakfast for two, albeit including an extra Beauty Special — the smoked salmon sandwich that we shared. The real kicker is that the beverages — a coffee, a diet Coke and an OJ cost $9.00 together. These are not diner prices.

Back to the hotel to dump off cameras and head off to my rendezvous with Louis Vuitton. I have been drooling over his carry-on luggage for way too long. Time to commit. Rob went clothes shopping… or something, no one cares.

This evening the skies opened. We need the rain, but wow! Luckily we can get to Place des Arts mostly inside and then run across the street to the venue to see Jim Gaffigan at the 30th anniversary of Just For Laughs Comedy Festival. The show is great, all new material and a few favorites that the crowd wanted to hear. After an encore, Jim leaves and we are peckish. Time for a late dinner. Schwartz’s.

Schwartz is a Montreal institution going on 84 years now. One of the few places open for late night dining on a Monday, the deli is busy. We once again grab the last parking spot in front and manage to find two seats together. Schwartz is not a large place. Tables are grubby and slow to be cleared. 80-plus years of grime layer the joint – and you just know the food is going to live up to expectations.

We get seated and our server “Artie from the Sopranos” breezes by twice to let us know he’s getting to us. When he finally does we order fries, coleslaw and dill pickle to share and medium (half-fat-half-lean-you-need-a-little-fat-with) smoked meat sandwiches each, and I order the recommended Cott’s black cherry soda.

Our food begins to arrive. Coleslaw is excellent oil and vinegar slaw, fries are good, and the garlic dill is perfect. Our sammies arrive next. Smoked meat piled high on soft rye, with a little yellow mustard. Excellent. They’re “fall apart in your hands good”. I also appreciate the size of the serving. Schwartz delivers a hefty sandwich, with plenty of meat, but doesn’t  overdo it  a la  New York City’s Carnegie deli which seems to pride itself on big, excessive and inevitable waste.

Montreal: Laugh, Eat, Shop!

2012 has been the Summer of Comedy for us. Marc Maron, Sarah Silverman, Natasha Leggere, John Oliver, Stephen Merchant, Patton Oswalt, and Jerry Seinfeld. Today we are heading off to Montreal in the midst of its annual Just For Laughs Comedy Festival to see a favorite of ours – Jim Gaffigan.

A perfect July day awaits us as does the open road. The sun is high in the sky and insects buzz happily (I’m only assuming here). Cottonball clouds dot the field of  blue sky like sheep. The highway is lined with a colourful blur of oncoming wildflowers. Our entertainment of choice today is a Nerdist podcast featuring guest Seth Myers. A good way to get in the mood for the festival.

As we pass neat rows of corn with silos rising soft in the hazy distance, I am reminded of the Indiana of a previous road trip. Could just as well be passing through there. When we cross the border into Quebec, the clouds flatten out and hills rise up in the distance. After a pleasant hour and a half we cross part of the St. Lawrence River and begin to see the outcroppings of a major metropolis. We are here!

Despite the brutal 30-plus degree heat, we head out to the festival grounds and beyond to explore. We are staying at the Hyatt and the festival is in full swing outside. Just for Laughs is a Quebec creation and it has spread to other parts of the globe. We visited the Chicago edition in June. Montreal’s festival is of a totally different and unique flavour. Quebec culture is very much in evidence here in all its government-funded, polka-dot fluorescent satin, mime-y glory, despite the fact that the majority of the comedy is in the English language.

Dinner tonight dinner will be at Laurier1936 BBQ, chosen because it is the 80-year-old original model for all the St-Hubert rotisserie-style restos, a classic Quebec tradition, curiously called BBQ, yet having no element of BBQ whatsoever. More famously and recently, the restaurant engaged Gordon Ramsay of Kitchen Nightmares to reinvigorate it, with a much ballyhooed falling out and competing lawsuits a-flying. Online reviews are alarmingly mixed but I am going with an open mind.

Laurier1936 is in a nice little university neighbourhood about 3 miles from the Hyatt. Many restaurants are not open in the city on Sunday evenings but Laurier is. We pull up out front and nab easy parking. We are greeted by a friendly staffer and the dessert case. She leads us from the main dining room, decorated in very modern white, to a back dining room which is faux distressed white french farmhouse with tin ceiling tiles, milk painted wainscotting and rustic brass fixtures.  Clean and warm. The dining room is sparsely populated with two other couples and a small party, but the patio is hopping.

I must state right here that the chairs are the most uncomfortable in which I have EVER sat. Hard metal, cafe style with a narrow back braced at the seat that even my small butt could not fit between without bruising. I had to sit on the chair midway and spent the entire meal trying not to slip off. Why do restaurants never give their chairs a second thought?

The table boasts a complimentary jar of dill pickles, a salt shaker and the now rarely found, private pepper grinder. We place drink orders, pinot for me and beer for Rob. Both come in appropriate glassware which is a good sign. Nothing like a nice glass of red in a crappy, tiny, thick rimmed  50 cent wine glass.

I order the crispy chicken with fries and a buttermilk biscuit. The chicken comes with a honey mustard sauce but no gravy. I order a $1.50 side of gravy for $3. Rob orders the rib and chicken combo, with fries, gravy and coleslaw. Our meals arrive very quickly. My meal is presented in an artistic cone but needs to be emptied out onto a plate to eat it. Three pieces of plump crispy chicken, a biscuit, fries and a sweet, satisfying honey mustard sauce that actually compliments the chicken more than the gravy does. A note about the gravy: it is a good consistency, not overly salty and does not congeal. Strongly flavoured with herbs and  tasty – but – tragically – and not a reflection on this sauce – I love the crap they serve at St. Hubert. THAT is hot chicken gravy to me and I cannot be swayed. Therefore I cannot judge the gravy here at Laurier. Rob, on the other hand, feels perfectly qualified to judge as he hates the gloppy, over-processed sludge that passes as chicken gravy at most rotisserie places (guess who added this sentence!).

My chicken is crispy and the homemade batter is lightly spicy. My only complaint is that the chicken is not deboned, which would be fine if the bones were large, but they opt to leave very tiny bones in the serving which you can’t really see, but you can feel with your tongue. You are left trying to politely spit them out. These pieces are all but boneless. Why choose to leave these bones in? In other news, my biscuit was barely warm and dry. It needed butter but it was not offered. I did not eat it. I have traveled in the southern US, home of the biscuit. I am ruined, yes, but even so, this was not a good biscuit.The fries were fine if not slightly over done for my taste. Rob enjoys this style — crispy, golden and not greasy.

Rob’s rotisserie chicken — 1/4 chicken, leg — was marvelous. It was plump, juicy and with a lovely golden skin. It was served on top of an open biscuit with fires and a small rack of pleasant, smoky ribs with a maple BBQ sauce.

We did not consider dessert as we were full. We waited over 15 minutes for our bill which was unacceptable despite the excellent service otherwise. Because it’s rare that I would deliberately go out for rotisserie chicken, I would probably not seek Laurier1936 out but would come back for the chicken if I was in the neighbourhood.
Laurier 1936 on Urbanspoon

Diner: Louis’ Restaurant

Louis’: home of my favorite Canadian-style pie. You know, the kind with the thick bready crust, good tomato sauce, a classic combo with green peppers, mushrooms and peperoni – chewy with cheese. A great Saturday use to include bowling at MacArthur lanes and pizza at Louis’. Late nights after Rob’s band played often included a stop at Louis’ which was hopping like it was noon even in the wee hours despite not having a liquor license. Family owned Louis’ has been a Vanier institution for 52 years. Our waitress, gravelly-voiced and sweetie-calling, has been there 34 years.

Louis’ serves breakfast, so we head over to check it out this fine, scorching Saturday. The place is full with regulars being questioned by another gravelly-voiced sister, “Where have you been?”, “Where is your husband this morning?”, “Have a great birthday!” We grab a table in the window,  one of very few available at 10:30. Our server asks us if we need menus. We do as this is our first time for breakfast. Coffee – decent – and bottled minute maid OJ arrive, I order the breakfast special, $5.10, and Rob orders a western omelette and we wait.

Decorated in classic-diner, orange vinyl booths and formica, Louis’ walls are charmingly plastered with unframed photos of family and I presume regulars, kid’s artwork and local hockey club paraphernalia, cementing its neighbourhood-fixture status. A small confectionery is attached to the restaurant. Lottery tickets and Advil are sold at the cash. Dessert cases are filled with mile-high cream pies. On the way in and out you can waste a quarter on the love meter. If you score “kinky” you get a free pack of gum.

Breakfast arrives. Two eggs cooked perfectly. bacon – for me – very crisp (Rob notes that no one ever asks you how you want your bacon. I like mine a little less crispy but not limp), home-fried potatoes cooked on the flat top with fried onions, very good, white toast (brown available and rye as well – no extra charge). No jam is offered or on the table. Minor peeve. The plate is adorned with a nice sweet orange wedge and a lame slice of tomato. I would take issue with this except that breakfast at Louis’ is very cheap and I don’t appear to be charged much for this.

Rob’s western omelet, cooked on the flat top is well made, but seemingly lacking green pepper. They’re famously a pizza place, so clearly they have green peppers on hand.

Breakfast at Louis’ overall is quite good. The price is right and the service is exactly what you want in a diner – efficient and friendly. Like family is serving you. Being there was a nice reminder that we have to go back from some of that late-night pie.


Louis' Restaurant and Pizzeria on Urbanspoon